Wednesday, April 12, 2006

a reflection on today's Lectionary readings: on transparency, the Gnostics, and the Gospel of Judas

Today's readings:

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Pslam 69
Matthew 26:14-25

Transparency I think should be one of the virtues along with prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. The habit of personal honesty and transparency helps us to see ourselves as God sees us, with all of our sins and failings, and our strengths as well.

As a Church, transparency is more than helpful, it is called for. The Church is called to make public and transparent–in her life, the life of her members, and in her celebrations--the message of the Gospel. And so we as Church make public and make plain the Gospel for all to hear and we make public our liturgical celebrations (except for the times when the Church is persecuted and the Church had to celebrate underground). This is because the Good News is not something that is meant to be kept a secret, but meant to be proclaimed for the salvation of all people.

And this is partly why the Church has condemned the Gnostic sects during the early centuries of the Church’s history. The Gnostics believed that we are spirit beings, imprisoned within our bodies. They believe that our goal is to be released from our mortal bodies and ascend to God, to heaven.

And how does that happen? We are released from this bodily imprisonment when we become privy to, when we know, a secret message and knowledge that is only granted to a few privileged people. Once we know this secret message and act on it by not indulging in temptations of the flesh, we are released from our bodily imprisonment, we are saved.

It’s a very attractive and tempting message, and many people during the early centuries believed it, because for one thing it feeds the vanity of wanting to belong to a special group, a special clique, to be part of the elite group who alone knows this special secret message or Gospel.

So why am I preaching against the Gnostics, eventhough they’ve been dead for centuries? Because they keep popping up in the news, as in last week when it was announced that the re-discovered Gospel of Judas, which was written by the Gnosticst, has been completely translated–and some people erroneously think that this would cause us to rethink how we regard Judas among others. Also, it’s difficult to hear today’s Gospel which is about Judas' betrayal, and not remember that bit of news from last week.

And so there are just three things that should be said in light of this news. First, unlike what the Gnostics had taught, our faith is that God created us body and spirit, God came down from heaven body and spirit, and so he dignified flesh and blood.

The resurrection, which we celebrate at every Eucharist and in a special way on Easter day, doesn’t mean that we leave our flesh and blood. Bbut rather resurrection means that our human flesh will be glorified, will enter a new dimension. Jesus when he rose from the dead, did not leave his flesh and bones in the tomb: the tomb was empty, his flesh was taken up. His humanity is glorified. The same will be for us at our resurrection.

Secondly, is Judas then pre-destined, fated to betray Jesus? Well, God created us as free persons and that God knows what is in our hearts and he knows our actions...they are transparent to him, just as the hearts and the actions of his disciples including Judas was transparent to him. Because of this God was able to foreknow who among his disciples would betray him. Jesus was close to them, and he knew their behavior and what is deep within their hearts, and so Jesus knew who would hand him over.

The first reading is the voice of someone persecuted, but one who also seeks transparency. He says in effect, “Who are my detractors and enemies? Come to me for I have nothing to hide.” It is the voice of someone who knows the purity in his heart and whose being is transparent to God.
Likewise, God, for whom our hearts and inner selves are transparent, invites us to know ourselves, to examine our consciences, and to following Christ.

And lastly, the message of God—the Gospel--is not some Gnostic secret that only we are privileged to know. But rather the Gospel is meant to be proclaimed publicly for the salvation of all. It is meant to be proclaimed in words and actions by those who believe for the sake of those who do not yet believe.

We proclaim this most definitely here, in our public liturgy, for when we eat the bread and drink the cup we proclaim the death of our Lord Jesus Christ until he comes in glory.

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